When MLB revealed All-Star rosters July 6, the Baltimore Orioles were the only team in the American League with multiple fan-elected starters. But it was a few under-the-radar Orioles -- not just the Birds' newly minted All Stars -- who played crucial roles during the Birds' 12-inning rubber-game victory in Boston July 6.
All told, the Orioles had a successful day. They avoided a potentially devastating loss to the Red Sox with a 7-6 win despite blowing a five-run lead in the seventh, then -- less than 30 minutes after their five-hour, five-minute marathon game concluded -- the Birds learned that fans had voted in center fielder Adam Jones, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and catcher Matt Wieters as starters for the July 15 All-Star Game.
Jones, who has hit .310/.334/.504/.838 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs during 88 games played, received a late surge of votes to make the cut as the third starting outfielder for the American AL squad, joining the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista and the Angels' Mike Trout. When MLB released its last voting update June 30, days before fan voting closed, Jones was polling fifth among outfielders. He ended up with just more than 2.8 million votes, earning him his second straight All-Star start and fourth overall selection.
Cruz handily won the voting for the designated hitter spot, garnering just less than 4 million votes, marking the first time during his career that he's been voted by fans in as an All-Star starter. During 87 games, Cruz leads the majors in RBIs (71) and is tied with Jose Abreu of the White Sox for the major league lead in home runs (27). Cruz previously made the All-Star team as a reserve in 2009 and 2013 for the Rangers.
Wieters received the most votes for the AL catcher spot despite suffering a season-ending injury that limited him to 26 games, during which he batted .308/.339/.500/.839 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. Wieters, who underwent Tommy John surgery June 17, will be unable to play in the All-Star Game (Kansas City's Salvador Perez will take his place), but he plans to attend the game and take part in the pregame introductions. This marks the third time Wieters has made the All-Star team, but the first time he's been voted in by fans.
Before their official selection to the All-Star team, Jones and Cruz did their part to help the Orioles take down the Red Sox July 6, combining to go 5-for-11 with three runs and an RBI from the No. 3 and 4 spots in the lineup.
Cruz in particular was a magnet for attention during the three-game series. During the Birds' 7-4 win July 5, game two of their doubleheader, Cruz went a career-best 5-for-5 with a home run, falling short of hitting for the cycle when he was thrown out trying to stretch a triple in his last at bat.
After the game, Red Sox starter John Lackey alluded to Cruz's 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2013, dismissing Cruz's accomplishment and telling the media that they "forget pretty conveniently about stuff."
In response to Lackey's comments, Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters, "We need to all make sure we check our own backyard before we start looking at someone else's."
The war of words between the Orioles and Red Sox didn't lead to any on-field incidents during the rubber game July 6, but the two teams battled in a tense back-and-forth contest that took 12 innings to resolve. It appeared as if the O's would cruise to an easy victory when they scored four runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-1 lead, but the Red Sox stunned the Birds' bullpen with a five-run, game-tying rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Four O's relievers -- T.J. McFarland, Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter -- combined to allow seven Red Sox hitters to reach base in the seventh, including a solo homer and four RBI singles. The bullpen implosion spoiled a potential victory for starter Kevin Gausman, who racked up a career-high seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings.
But when the Birds are doing well, they're able to withstand a potential catastrophe and find another way to grind out a victory, and that's what they did July 6. Right-handed reliever Brad Brach deserve part of the credit for the Birds' recovery. After the O's cycled through several relievers who struggled to get batters out, Brach entered in the ninth and worked three scoreless innings, permitting two base runners while striking out four.
Brach, who is now 4-0 with a 3.26 ERA this year, has done an admirable job in long relief during his debut season with the Orioles. Since the Orioles recalled him from Triple-A Norfolk June 21 for his latest stint with the team, Brach has made seven straight scoreless appearances. Brach's ability to eat up multiple innings has been impressive considering that he mainly served as a short reliever during his three-year career with the Padres, never pitching more than two innings during any outing.
Another unheralded Oriole who starred July 6 was outfielder David Lough, despite the fact that he didn't start the game. Lough came in as a defensive replacement in left field in the seventh inning, and in the top of the 12th, he laced a leadoff triple to the gap off Red Sox reliever Edward Mujica and scored on J.J. Hardy's RBI single. Adding to his excellent inning, Lough threw out David Ortiz trying to stretch a double in the bottom of the 12th, providing a critical out for closer Zach Britton.
Lough has essentially been forced out of the starting lineup of late by the red-hot Steve Pearce; Lough hasn't started since game two of a June 27 doubleheader, spending the next nine games on the bench. But when called upon July 6, he delivered, both offensively and defensively.
The Birds' win was similar to one of the most memorable games from their thrilling 2012 season -- a Sept. 6 victory against the Yankees at Camden Yards on Cal Ripken Statue Night. That game featured a similar pattern -- the Orioles took a commanding five-run lead into the late innings against an AL East nemesis, and then the Birds' bullpen coughed it all up (a five-run Yankee eighth inning to tie the game at six). But the O's kept their composure and won the game anyway, thanks to three home runs in the bottom of the eighth.
The Birds' July 6 win could end up as a similarly memorable bounce-back victory as Sept. 6, 2012. For now, it pushed the Orioles two games ahead of the Blue Jays in the AL East and improved them to a season-high eight games better than .500 (48-40). If the Orioles can continue to get contributions from everyone on their roster -- from All-Stars such as Jones and Cruz to depth players such as Brach and Lough -- their 2014 season could, like 2012, end up with a postseason berth.